Pallets, Packaging, & Forklifts: A History of Shipping

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Today’s pallets are designed to withstand great weights and to be lifted by a forklift on and off trucks, ships and planes. Without the pallet, the global economy might not be as global as it is.

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The Evolution Of The Wooden Pallets & Shipping

Today’s pallets are designed to withstand great weights and to be lifted by a forklift on and off trucks, ships and planes. Without the pallet, the global economy might not be as global as it is.

The pallet is an offshoot of the skid. The difference being that the skid has no bottom boards. Modern day pallets are made from plastic, aluminium, and most commonly wood. Wooden pallets are price effective and structurally capable of holding large weight bearing loads.

The invention of the forklift and the structural improvements in the pallet to accommodate the forklift quickly revolutionised the shipping and transport industry. For example, a typical boxcar filled with 13,000 cases of canned goods took 3 days to unload in the 1930’s. With cases mounted on pallets and with the use of a forklift, this task today takes about 4 hours. The pallet allows goods to get loaded, transported and unloaded much more quickly than in earlier generations.

The Beginning of The Wooden Pallet

The first skids and pallets began to appear in the 1920s. Before the invention became popular, crates, boxes, kegs and barrels were used to “gather, store, protect and move merchandise.” Before the pallet, skids were sometimes used. As soon as the forklift emerged on the manufacturing scene, skids evolved into pallets.

When spacers were added between the skid and the bottom boards, the pallet was invented. The space between the support boards could easily accommodate the prongs of the forklift. Although the spacers were added to skids earlier, it was not until 1925 that the bottom planks were added. This addition led to the concept of stacking.

The reliance of industry upon pallets has led to a sub-industry. The forklift, pallet jack, front loader and other jacking devices are all used to move pallets. Warehousing operations rely equally upon their lifting devices and carefully packed pallets to store and load goods.

During the War years, the pallet and forklift enabled the massive production and shipment of heavy goods and armaments. Over time, the forklift and types of jacking devices used to lift and move pallets have changed dramatically but the pallet remains essentially unchanged, at least in terms of design.

The Forklift

A basic low lift hand truck was introduced to industry as early as 1887. In 1909, a more refined, all-steel low lift truck came to market. This version was the precursor to the first high lift fork truck, which was manufactured in 1915.

As the forklift continued to evolve, the shipping and handling industry took note. The first experiments with vertical storage took place in 1926. The quantity and quality of materials being shipped on pallets continued to rise as the entire warehousing industry took note. In fact, the evolution of the forklift and pallet caused architects and builders to reconsider the floor plans and ceiling heights that had dominated the landscape earlier. The ability to stack and access stacked goods on a pallet with a forklift made storage much more space-efficient as warehouse gravitated toward higher ceilings and smaller floor space.

Packing & Protecting The Pallet

The reliable pallet can carry as much as 1,000kg (2,200 pounds) safely. For light goods or heavy goods, shippers are usually secured with strapping, stretch wrap and or shrink wrap before shipping. The packaging and wrapping industry is dynamic and vibrant industry in the UK.

With the emphasis upon reliable shipping that businesses must demonstrate to gain acceptance in the global marketplace, the combination of proper packaging has never been more important. Forklifts move huge amounts of goods that are wrapped in plastic coverings and protected from the elements.

The Aluminium Pallet

Perhaps the biggest change to the pallet is the development of the aluminium and plastic pallets. While some shippers prefer these for different reasons, the wooden pallet remains the staple of the industry by a wide margin. There is a higher price associated with aluminium pallets, due to manufacturing costs.

One advantage of aluminium pallets is their durability. Whereas the wooden pallet is normally used a few times, the aluminium pallet can be used many times over.

Consumers are also finding intriguing ways to put leftover wooden pallets to work in practical applications, especially in gardens. However, the wooden pallet has found its way into modern interior design schemes. For the do-it-yourselfer, the wooden pallet offers a plethora of opportunities.

The invention of effective pallets, packaging, and forklift trucks have contributed towards global trade and the ability for us to access all the goods that we desire. Although for many people the shipping process is behind the scenes, these improvements in transporting goods over the last 100 years have changed people’s lives and transformed our economy.

For more information about our pallet protection products, take a look through our range or contact us today.

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